A Deeper Look Into An Historic Pilgrimage
The First American Catholic Pilgrimage to Palestine, 1889 chronicles the first Catholic pilgrimage guided by the Holy Land Franciscans nearly 130 years ago. The Franciscan Friars of the Holy Land guided pilgrim Reverend James Pfeiffer and his companions, and they continue to guide pilgrims through the Holy Land today. Being a part of a Franciscan Holy Land Pilgrimage means being part of 800 years of history and experience.
An Italian Diversion
The pilgrims spent some time in Europe before making their way to the Holy Land. One noteworthy stop was Assisi, the birthplace of St. Francis, the founder of the Order of Franciscans. It is fascinating that Reverend Pfeiffer chooses to include this leg of their journey given the Franciscan connection. “800 years ago, the Roman Catholic Church entrusted the guardianship of the Holy Land and other shrines of the Christian religion to the Order of St. Francis, creating what is now known as the Custody of the Holy Land.”
Photo Credit: Marco Gavasso/CTS
The Holy Land Then and Now
Let’s take a look at Five Special Places in the Holy Land Reverend Pfeiffer and his fellow pilgrims visited. These encounters will barely scratch the surface of the locations Rev. Pfeiffer recounts in his book. The pilgrims spent months on this pilgrimage providing much fodder for him to share within the pages of this 268-page account of their travels.
Reverend Pfeiffer looks not only at the itinerary and locations visited on their trip, but he also gives some of the rich history of the Holy Land and his own personal encounters with the locations.
Rev. Pfeiffer also includes a copious amount of Scripture throughout the narrative. People who have visited the Holy Land often remark that it brings the Bible to life. Others have remarked that you will never read stories in Scripture the same way once you have walked in Jesus’ footsteps.
What a gift to have this travelogue from such a historic moment in Catholic history.
Beginning the Journey in Jaffa
Jaffa, also known as Joppa, the southern and oldest part of Tel Aviv, is an ancient port city in Israel,“where the pilgrims generally entered the Holy Land. It is about 40 miles southeast of Jerusalem and passes for one of the ancient cities in the world.”
Jaffa is where Noah built the ark. Reverend Pfeiffer tells us, “the apostles went forth into the different parts of the world to preach the gospel.” The pilgrims first traveled throughout the Holy Land in light carriages. Reverend Pfeiffer laments a railroad being created after his visit and adds, “I would also rather have taken a train to Jerusalem and other places than fall off donkeys or be tossed around on those wagons to Jerusalem.”
Image Courtesy, Pixabay.com
The Holy City of Jerusalem
Reverend Pfeiffer chronicles, that during their time in Jerusalem, a Franciscan priest and Bro. Bernardin showed them the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. He gives such great detail into the interior of the holy place. As you read each descriptive word, it is as if you are transported back to 1889 standing amid those first pilgrims taking in the same grand sites.
The chapel, built “of polished native yellowstone,” stands over the grave of Our Lord, which one can still visit and venerate. Consider the number of pilgrims from all over the world who travel just to touch the place where Jesus was laid to rest after His crucifixion. The spot from which He rose!!
Photo credit: Marie-Armelle Beaulieu/CTS
Also documented in his visit to the Holy Sepulchre was the ancient Holy Fire ceremony performed on Holy Saturday. This continues into present day but in a much more orderly fashion. Rev. Pfeiffer speaks of the chaos of that moment as pilgrims attempted to get the Holy Fire from the Patriarchs and spread it as quickly as possible: “Others tried to get fire from these [Patriarchs] and in the great confusion, some set fire to their clothes and even their beards, causing the greatest excitement and confusion ever seen, despite the 800 soldiers who were present to maintain order.”
Holy Week in the Holy Land
One of the remarkable aspects of the First American Catholic Pilgrimage to Palestine, 1889 is the fact that the pilgrims were in the Holy Land for Holy Week. To follow their journey through these holy cities and locations, in light of the events that took place there over 1800 years before, is quite remarkable. It is absolutely mind-blowing to realize that now, 130 years later, we can still spend Holy Week and Easter at the holiest of holy places!
As one reads Reverend Pfeiffer’s Holy Week memories, it was evident these pilgrims returned forever changed in their practice of the Catholic faith, most especially in the celebration of the Mass and their perspective of Scriptures.
Photo Credit: Marie-Armelle Beaulieu/CTS
The Way of the Cross, the Via Dolorosa
On Good Friday, Reverend Pfeiffer tells readers that the pilgrims went the Way of the Cross, the Via Dolorosa, which is the streets of Jerusalem. They participated in the Stations of the Cross along the route. The last five stations, in fact, were within the Holy Sepulchre Church!
Reverend Pfeiffer recalls how touching the ceremony was on that Good Friday, being physically present at Calvary, on the very spot where the Crucifixion took place. He recalls one of the subdeacons holding a cross, on which was fixed a corpus. Reverend Pfeiffer said he’d never seen such a beautiful ceremony.
On Good Friday, Pilgrims visiting the Holy Land can Commemorate the Passion at the Holy Sepulchre.
The Dead Sea
The Dead Sea is about 40 miles long from north to south and, according to Reverend Pfeiffer, “it is where once stood the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah.” Surprisingly, he writes of people actually tasting the Dead Sea water and then putting it into a tumbler. “It was clear as any other water would have been.” While that may not be advised on a modern day pilgrimage, much has been written on the phenomenal health benefits of Dead Sea mud!
Image Courtesy, Pixabay.com
He also spoke of the few people brave enough to swim in this water, amazed at the buoyancy of the Dead Sea more so than any other body of water they had visited. From there, the pilgrims went on to the River Jordan where Jesus was baptized.
Take a Dead Sea Dip for Yourself
A look at the modern day itineraries for many of The Franciscan Holy Land pilgrimages reveals similar opportunities for a swim of your own in the Dead Sea as well as touching the very water Jesus was baptized in.
Image Courtesy, Franciscan Holy Land Gift Shop
AN HISTORIC TRIP RECOUNTED FOR GENERATIONS TO COME
A reproduction of a historical artifact, this book is recognized by scholars for being culturally valuable for the fascinating insight it offers into the earliest account of a formal pilgrimage from the United States to the holiest of sites in Jerusalem and beyond. A copy of First American Catholic Pilgrimage to Palestine, 1889, may be purchased in the Franciscan Holy Land Gift Shop for only $19.95. Purchases from the Holy Land Gift Shop directly support Christians striving to remain in their homeland, the very place where Christianity began.